Break out of the white box

With the demand for quality rising, it is increasingly hard to stand out as a developer. Lulu Greenhalgh-Jones of Carpenter Oak explores how housebuilders can use timber to break out of the new development ‘white box.’

The market is not short of developments of neat new build homes where every single one almost identical to its neighbour. But what if the houses you are building are not like any others in the area? Where does that place your development in the market? Character and charm have their own value and present buyers with a choice that rivals what is already on the market.

Developers and housebuilders who are embracing this trend for sustainability, natural materials, craftsmanship and innovation are now cleaning up in the new build market. They are actively being sort out by home buyers who are specifically wanting a home with features that make their home feel bespoke, pioneering and essentially, just different. This set of inspired developers are selling houses faster than their competitors, without having to go into a war on price.

With the current awareness of the environment and sustainability, as well as the healthy homes trend which is showing no signs of slowing down, people are increasingly interested in trying to incorporate natural materials into their homes as well as supporting traditional British craftsmanship.

Introducing a timber frame such as oak, douglas fir or glulam frame into your build creates high-value features such as vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, handmade pegs and the glorious smell of sustainability sourced timber and that all adds to the sale value. These features will appeal to a market of people who want to buy quality, traditional homes, but with all the benefits of a new build.

Because the frame is encapsulated in a shell containing high R-value insulation and an airtight membrane, the exterior of the building will conform to or even exceed most planning considerations. It also means you’ll deliver an efficient home. That said, it is key to make the figures stack up and part of that is working with a framing company who understand the commercial pressures on a development and are able to support your marketing activity with collateral that educates the house buyer on the product.

Something many forward thinking and commercially savvy developers are considering is that you can raise the attractiveness and value of an entire development by having a number of select oak framed feature properties within the mix of housing. They are also introducing timber features such as walkways, arches, seating and play areas into the public space.

An excellent example of how this has worked well is the RIBA Stirling prize-winning Accordia housing development in Cambridge. Accordia offers urban living in a variety of innovative houses and apartments with a balance of timber features in both private and public spaces. Traditional gardens are replaced with open spaces such as courtyards, roof terraces and large balconies, each enhanced with the beauty of quality natural materials.

This example shows it possible to create high-density housing and demonstrates that volume housebuilders can deliver high-quality architecture and really set themselves apart from the competition.

Practically speaking, what are the other advantages of a structural timber frame? Modern methods of construction mean that over 80 per cent of the construction happens offsite, so the overall time onsite is minimal. Timber construction is also cost- effective, efficient, sustainable and highly desirable, making it a serious competitor.

If you choose a company who hand-make the timber structural frames, then you can not only blend timber with any contemporary materials you desire such as glass or steel, but also choose almost any wrap or exterior finishing method that works for your site. Your build then becomes highly flexible, cost-effective and responsive to planning requirements, not to mention customisable to the needs of your site and buyers.

Timber has come far in the last 50 years and now is the time for the next phase of developers to step out of the shadow of the millions of white boxes and respond to the market demand for new builds with a soul. The only question is will you also break out of the white box to join the few inspired industry pioneers?

Lulu Greenhalgh-Jones is head of marketing at Carpenter Oak